The Power of Design Systems: A Key Investment for Startup Success

Humayun Rashid



March 16, 2023

min read

Design systems have become an essential framework for startups to manage and ship new products and accelerate roadmaps successfully.

We've seen firsthand with our clients how design systems can help shape a startup's success, from launch to the next raise. In today's fast-paced digital environment, startups must prioritize premium user experiences (UX) and a consistent user interface (UI) design to differentiate themselves from the competition. At Nessa, we predominantly work with venture-backed software startups to deliver market-defining custom user experiences. Let's explore the importance of design systems and the core value propositions they offer

First, we should define what a design system is. It's a cohesive set of reusable components, guidelines, and principles that help teams create a consistent and delightful user experience. Design systems are vital for software startups building scalable, efficient, and aesthetically appealing digital products. By using a design system, teams can quickly create new products, release new features to users, and ultimately get to market faster while maintaining a cohesive brand and user experience.

Why should startups invest in design systems? Here are our top six reasons:

1. Scalability: Growing With Your Startup

Startups are all about growth, and design systems can help facilitate this by providing a scalable framework for product design. A design system makes maintaining and updating your product more accessible. Your design system can adapt as your startup expands and evolves to meet new requirements. This scalability means you won't have to reinvent the wheel for every new feature or struggle to update every device screen when you decide to rebrand. Design inconsistencies can easily creep in without a centralized design system, leading to stalled growth, disjointed user experience, inconsistent brand identity, and, ultimately, unhappy customers.

2. Efficiency: Accelerating Product Development 

Startups are fast-paced teams because first-to-market advantages are table stakes. Design systems can streamline the entire design process, keeping up with the fast-paced nature of startups. Rather than starting from scratch with each new product or feature, design teams can quickly use pre-existing components and guidelines to create unique designs. Need to ship a new onboarding experience for users? Create a template based on pre-designed elements. How do you test a new landing page design for a new product? Use conversion-focused landing page designs from a previous build and plug-in content. 

Design systems help cross-disciplinary teams across engineering, creative, and marketing have a shared consensus on deliverables and ship products quickly. A well-structured design system streamlines the design process, saving time and resources and ensuring that teams work efficiently and collaboratively. Teams can work more efficiently and avoid repetitive tasks by prioritizing reusable components and existing design patterns.

Component of the Pack design system
Pack Digital Case Study

We worked with the team at Pack, a headless framework startup for top direct-to-consumer eCommerce brands like Cuts and LiquidIV, to help redesign their platform. As part of our key deliverables, we created a comprehensive design system & UI kit for their product team. It allowed them to document and catalog all design components, interface guidelines, and brand assets in a centralized location. It not only organized their design assets in an accessible way for engineers and designers but helped product owners prototype new features and ship them out quickly. The engineering team could iterate and ship out new product updates from their roadmap twice as fast with a centralized design system in place. Maintaining competitiveness in the headless commerce market was a massive advantage for an agile engineering team moving quickly and saving hundreds of design hours from their roadmap.

3. Collaboration: Streamlining Teamwork 

Design systems bridge the gap between designers, developers, product managers, and key stakeholders. When everyone on the team is aligned and harmonious, the result is a cohesive and efficient product development process. This collaboration saves time, reduces miscommunication, and leads to a better end product delivered to users.

4. Brand Consistency: A Harmonious User Experience 

For startups, brand identity is critical, especially as the company is establishing itself. It can help a startup stand out in a crowded market and build a loyal customer base. Consistency in design builds trust and credibility with users, which is crucial for growth. A well-implemented design system ensures consistency across your product's UI and UX, making it look polished and streamlined. By establishing design principles and guidelines, startups can ensure that their brand identity remains cohesive. This consistency helps build brand recognition and trust with customers.

Shopify Polaris design system
Credit: Shopify Polaris

As Shopify Plus agency partners, we continue using Shopify's design language system, Polaris, to design and build custom apps and software for our clients. The framework includes helpful guides on design standards, layout options, and best practices for merchant experiences. 

5. Accessibility: A Reliable Product Experience For All Users

Software should be accessible to all users, regardless of ability. Startups must have a well-documented design system accounting for all users, experiences, design components, and guidelines. By incorporating accessibility best practices and ADA compliance, startups can ensure a consistent and inclusive user product experience by accounting for all experiences, design components, and guidelines.

6. Product Velocity: Ship Faster 

Design Systems are proven to help product teams design, iterate, and ship out products to customers at twice the speed of their competitors. A recent study by Forrester found that companies with a strong focus on unified and shared design guidelines outperformed their peers by over 200%. Imagine what a 2X output can do for a startup competing for market share and users. 

Component of Airbnb design system

Companies like Airbnb and Google have already heavily invested in design systems. They have seen significant benefits from doing so. Airbnb's design system, Design Language System (DLS), has enabled it to launch new products and features faster while maintaining a consistent user experience across its ecosystem of mobile and web apps for travel guests. And Google's Material Design system has become an industry standard, influencing the design of countless products. 

Investing in a design system sounds like a lot of work - and you're right. They require significant time, resources, and stakeholder buy-in. However, the long-term benefits far outweigh the initial costs. Design systems are an essential investment for software startups looking to create consistent, collaborative, scalable, and efficient products. By adopting a design system, startups can position themselves for long-term success in an increasingly competitive landscape. It's crucial for software startups to recognize the value of a well-executed design system and make it a foundational part of their growth strategy.

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